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Essex Frame: Not Bad

2546 Views 20 Replies 11 Participants Last post by  Ken Neal
I thought some of you might like a report on the quality of an Essex Arms frame I recently purchased.

First of all, I know that Essex hasn't had a strong reputation for quality, and I know that their parts are cast, not forged like Caspian's. But I had my reasons for ordering an Essex:

1) It was already blued and had the grip screw bushings, ejector and plunger tube installed. Since I am just a hobbyist, not a gunsmith, I appreciate having someone else do that work for me.

2) I wanted a G.I.-style frame and most frame makers don't offer one.

3) This frame will be used with a .22 conversion most of the time so durability isn't a big issue.

4) Essex frames cost less than the competition's.

Cosmetically, the frame looks better than I expected. The bluing is a uniform, matte black and there aren't any visible casting flaws. All the pins and parts that I've assembled to it have slid into place without problems.

What's been most surprising is that when I tried mating the Essex frame with the slide assembly of a Kimber, the two fit together beautifully with very little looseness or friction. The slots (?) in a Norinco slide were a little too small for the Essex's rails.

So far it's looking good. I'll post an update if I run into any problems.
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Caspian Lower ends are investment cast, not forged. You could have had the best for a very few bucks more. Deepest sympathy. Wait til you try to put it together with the sometimes strange holes in the frame. That's when the fun starts
Having built a gun on an essex frame, this are my comments : frame rail slot .015 too close to slide stop hole, frame rail slot too wide (.125), thumb safety sear block hole out of spec. Otherwise this is a good buy. Dan Wesson is building their Pointman from Essex frame&slide.
Caspian Lower ends are investment cast, not forged.
Whoops, that's right. I apologize for posting incorrect information.
But, you can get barstock frames from Caspian. They are almost double the price of their cast frame, but worth it to some people.
I got an Essex framed "GI look-alike" for my first 1911. Has a TZ slide (Israeli made, I'm told.)

It was cheap, and it looks (to the inexperienced eye) EXACTLY like a classic parkerized WWII Remington Rand, or Ithica, or Colt.

As luck would have it, the first ammo I bought was two boxes of the dreaded AMERC!

I thought the gun was the biggest piece of crap, for about 100 rounds. In the meantime, I read up on this forum, and some other sites, and tinkered with it a little, and now it shoots reliably, and with (GI-style) "combat" accuracy.

Now, I actually like it. It was cheap, but looks really classic. Shoots good enough, even with my 200 gr LSWC reloads.

I've read comments about Essex that are all over the board. At one time they were the "hot" setup, and more recently they've been castigated for being castings. Lately the rumor is their quality has come up enough to become an OEM supplier to Dan Wesson. I wish Dan Wesson success with them.
Caspian will be offering a GI-spec frame. And, as RickB said, they offer both cast and forged receivers.
Well, it turns out that the frame isn't as good as it looked.

After installing the internals I discovered that the hammer wouldn't stay cocked. So I took everything apart and checked the sear, disconnector, hammer, et cetera, trying to see what was wrong. Everything looked OK (I was using the Kuhnhausen book as a reference) but I swapped out the parts from another 1911 just to be sure. Then things seemed to function OK until I slid the mainspring housing up and put pressure on the sear spring. Finally I compared the Essex with couple of other frames (Norinco and Caspian) and saw the problem: the slot that holds the tab of the sear spring is too high.

If I were a machinist, I could probably just cut a new slot about 0.1" below the original one. Since I'm not, I'm going to have to call Brownells to find out what they suggest.

When referring to Kuhnhausen, are you talking about Vol 1 or 2? Volume 2 has all of the technical specs and is enormously helpful if you think things are kittywampus.

The Kuhnhausen book I have is "The Colt .45 Automatic - A Shop Manual". It's divided into Book I and Book II.
There's a Volume Two out, which is a lot more useful to the hobbyist as it gives all the proper mil-spec dimensions for the parts.

Bummer about the Essex frame. Funny thing, but I was almost ready to buy one for a GI replicating project of mine.

D. Kamm
USGI M1911/M1911A1 Pistols Website
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Contact Gary Whipple...he'll take care of you. Tell him we said hello!

[email protected]

Just tell him the whole story and what you're tryin' to do...Let us know how it turns out...


!!!Molon Labe'!!!
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I have an update:

First, Gary Whipple at Essex Arms contacted me. (He monitors this board and saw the thread.) He sent an e-mail explaining that cutting the sear spring slot is one of the few operations that isn't done by a CNC machine and that he or Brownells would gladly replace the frame at no charge.

Second, I tried a fourth sear spring and it must have been short enough to compensate for the high slot. Now almost everything works. The grip safety doesn't operate (the trigger will go back when it isn't depressed) but I think that's a problem with the part, not the frame.

I'll post another update after I've test fired the complete pistol.
I'll waste a little time here for your project. There is a ledge on the grip safety that controls the amount of travel outward. If you look, you will see how it works. Eagles Law: Work on the cheapest part first.This lesson will be very valuble to you. When you get through with this 1911, you will have nothing of value.
Dave Sample,
If you consider us all fools, and your time spent here as 'wasted', why bother to post?
It appears as if you have nothing to contribute, save your delightful insights into the lack of our character.
Perhaps you consider your presence here as a hedge on the firey hells of afterlife???
Your recent editorial in our local paper was unremarkable except for your signature.....
'retired law enforcement, gunsmith with an 'international clientle'....
Did you pick up a spanish speaking customer?

I built one using an Essex frame in 1999 and have problems with the hammer falling to half cock when a round is chambered and sometimes when it is fired.I changed the internal parts several times to make sure it was not them being out of spec.,and had a gunsmith work on it.He said the only thing he could see was that the holes were out of alignment and that this was common with Essex frames.He tried a few more combinations of parts and it worked a little better,but still fallsmainly when cycling a round.When I called Essex the person I talked to then was not very helpful,it now sits in the gun cabinet and not used becuse of safety.

I wish Gary Whipple had been the manager then,from what i've heard he stives to make things right if something is wrong with their product.
Toolwrench seem to be a little upset with me!I'm sorry if I implied that I don't respect your work. I have been the number 1 member of your fan club for 10 years and will continue to be forever.You are right, though, about my comments and I apologize. I will keep my opinons to myself and not comment. I'm sure that if anyone can get something out of an Essex lower end, It would be you.
I was in a hurry this AM and forgot to answer toolwrench's questions. The Editor of the local paper added that blurb, not me.I have a highly decorated Green Beret Colonel that has three guns here at the present time. He speaks French, Geman, Spanish, Italian, English and can read and write in Ancient Hebrew. He is presently working in Nigeria and left those guns here for tweaking. I don't use an alias here because I don't care what any of you think or say. I am a patriot and am used to being despised by lesser men. I am easy to find if anyone wants to come and play. I have served my country in war and peace and taken care of me for 69 years.I have never seen such a bunch of weird dudes in all my life! I have been places and done some things. I could care less about anyone on this forum. Or what you think. Or what you say.With one exception, and he knows who he is.
Eagles Law: Work on the cheapest part first.This lesson will be very valuble to you.
Thanks for the tip. I'm going to compare the suspect grip safety with a good grip safety to see if they're different.
Here's an update:

I finally test fired the Essex. I pulled the top half off a Kimber Custom Target and it slid right onto the Essex frame like they'd been fit together at the factory.

At the range, the Essex/Kimber mongrel worked beautifully. It digested about 100 rounds of assorted ammo (including some low-powered LSWC handloads) without any problems at all.

Aside from the grip safety problem (which I expect to be fixed as soon as I can find a good replacement grip safety), there's just one flaw now: the shape of the grip. The Essex has a square-ish frontstrap like a Springfield Armory pistol plus a little extra metal between the magwell and the mainspring housing. The "septum" is about twice as thick as on a Colt. As a result, my fingers don't wrap around the frontstrap as comfortably as they do on other 1911s. I suppose that someone with big hands might like the larger grip, but my average-sized hands don't lock onto the Essex frame as well as they should.

I don't know when Essex changed the dimensions. I have an older Essex frame and it feels just like a Colt.
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